Living the Jewish Life in Jacksonville

If you have your sights on moving to, or within, Florida, you may be surprised to learn that you can still have great weather and low cost of living. In fact, you’re about to discover a gem of a city that’s been laying low below the radar, where homes are still affordable, the climate is excellent, and the quality of life is high. A city by the ocean and a majestic river, where business is thriving, genteel Southern hospitality abounds, and the low cost of living makes it one of the more affordable cities in Florida. The city is Jacksonville.

Welcome to Jacksonville

Located on the Atlantic Coast, in the northeast corner of Florida, and centered on the banks of the majestic St. Johns River, Jacksonville features continuous growth, endless opportunities, and a superior quality of life. With a metropolitan population of over one million, Jacksonville has a population significantly younger than all other major Florida cities, with a median age under 35.3 years old.

Jacksonville may be the largest city in the state of Florida and the third most populated city on the entire East Coast (after New York and Philadelphia), but you would never notice driving around. Everything is spread out. In fact, Jacksonville has a total area of 874.3 miles, making it the largest city in land area in the contiguous United States!

Jacksonville boasts a first-rate public school system and a multitude of institutions of higher learning. Jax is home to the Southeast’s largest modern & contemporary art museum, as well as a major symphony orchestra, sports and entertainment complex downtown, and a myriad of special events that this sports-loving city hosts each year. Downtown Jacksonville has experienced more than $1.6 billion in redevelopment projects, from cafes and boutiques to museums and galleries.

A Natural Beauty

Outdoor people and nature lovers rejoice! Jacksonville offers something for everyone who loves the outdoors. From endless miles of beaches and translucent waters to peaceful landscapes and gorgeous gardens to ancient oak forests and salt marshes, the variety is astounding. With 68 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline and 300 miles of river, Jacksonville offers truly significant natural beauty.

With almost 84,000 acres or 131 square miles of city, state and national parks, Jacksonville operates the largest urban park system in the United States. Jacksonville now ranks No. 1 among U.S. cities in gross acreage for parks and is in the top 10 in the percentage of acreage in the city devoted to parkland. Not surprisingly, many parks around the city have received international recognition, while the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens boasts the second largest animal collection in the state.

As the longest river in the state of Florida, and the longest river in the United States that flows northwards, the St. Johns River is home to numerous species of plants and animals. It is not uncommon to see dolphins in the river east of Jacksonville and manatees in the springtime when the water warms up. Alligators, bald eagles, ospreys, stingrays, and many species of fish—both salt and fresh water—are found living in the river and on its banks.

Unlike much of the rest of Florida, the First Coast’s miles of beaches remain relatively unspoiled. Jax’s beach communities offer some of the best sport fishing, boating and water sport opportunities in the country. Strolling along the beach might produce a collection of seashells, a view of porpoise and northern right whales playing off the coast, or merely a relaxed state of mind.

Four Seasons Without Snow

To the point, Jacksonville offers excellent year-round weather, four seasons without snow. The city’s climate is subtropical. High temperatures average 64 to 91 °F (18-33 °C) throughout the year. Winters can be marked by spells of cold weather, but outdoor events and sports outings can be comfortably enjoyed year round. Additionally, Jacksonville has suffered less damage from hurricanes than most other east coast cities. The city has only received one direct hit from a hurricane since 1871.

Business and Economy

Jacksonville is an expanding business city. The largest city in the state, it is also the largest deepwater port in the south, as well as the second-largest port on the U.S. East coast. Millions of tons of raw materials and manufactured goods move through the city annually. The area’s economy is balanced among distribution, financial services, biomedical technology, consumer goods, information services, manufacturing, and other industries.

Due to its convenient location, mild climate, reasonable cost of living, high quality of life, and a business-friendly government, Jacksonville has been a very popular location for corporate expansions and relocations. According to Forbes.com, Jacksonville, Florida ranked in the top ten U.S. cities to relocate to find a job. Jacksonville is consistently rated one of the “Hottest Cities in America” for business expansions and relocations, and ranked 11th in Inc. magazine’s list of “Best Cities for Doing Business” for 2006.

Major commercial air service in Jacksonville operates out of Jacksonville International Airport, including popular JetBlue. Jacksonville is also a full-service international seaport, with four modern seaport facilities and the new JAXPORT Cruise Terminal, which opened in 2003 and provides cruises to Key West, the Bahamas, and Mexico.

The combination of three major interstate highways, the port terminals, three major railways, and Jacksonville International Airport has made the area a major distribution center and a city of growing international commerce. Companies from around the globe have discovered that it is not only a superior place to live and play; it is a superior place for business as well.

Jewish in Jacksonville

Jacksonville’s Jewish population numbers approximately 15,000. As stated earlier, Jacksonville boasts the youngest population in the State of Florida. This is true with regards to its Jewish population as well.

The primary Jewish section of Jax is the Mandarin area. Mandarin is a neighborhood located in the southernmost portion of Jacksonville. During the last decade, the Mandarin area has undergone the greatest growth of any community in Jacksonville. Mandarin is also one of the oldest areas of Jacksonville, having been settled before Jacksonville was founded. The area is home to the JCA (JCC), a reform Temple, and two conservative Synagogues – one which hosts a Solomon Schechter Day School of approximately 150 children.

There are two Orthodox synagogues, including Etz Chaim, which is a traditional modern Orthodox synagogue, and Chabad. Both shuls are close to each other. Parts of the Mandarin area are encircled by an Eiruv. There is an Orthodox Day School – Torah Academy – which currently runs through 8th grade. The Synagogues have active youth groups and offer an assortment of youth activities.

There are now four Chabad satellite branches in Jax, including one in the Southside area, which also hosts a very successful joint preschool called Ganeinu. The other branches are located in nearby Fleming Island, St Johns and Ponte Vedra Beach.

Once called “a tropical paradise” by resident author Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin), the quaint area of Mandarin, just a short drive from the city center, is marked by ancient oak trees draped with Spanish moss, beautiful parks, marinas, and more water views than any other area in Jacksonville.

Within walking distance to both Chabad and Etz Chaim, you’ll find all types of housing available, including stunning estate homes on the banks of the St. Johns River, modern ranch homes, spacious colonials, condos, and rental complexes. The neighborhood is woodsy, surrounded by lush flora, including the beautiful live oaks, which stay green all year round.

The average price of a nice 3-4 bedroom ranch home in Mandarin is around $300,000. Rental units range from $650 to $900 per month, depending on the number of bedrooms and particular location.

Kosher in Jacksonville

Kosher in Jacksonville is on the rise. Both Publix and Winn Dixie supermarkets in Mandarin carry extensive lines of kosher groceries, including Rubashkin meats & poultry, wine and frozen foods. Cholov Yisroel products are also available at Publix.

Trader Joe’s recently opened in Jacksonville Beach, offering kosher poultry and meats, kosher wine and packaged goods. BJ’s Wholesale Club and Costco both carry Empire products and poultry, as well as Kedem Grape Juice and many other kosher specialty products. Chabad additionally offers a kosher coop. Food is ordered once a month and is delivered to all Chabad Locations. Rabbi Nosson Kaiser of Etz Chaim Synagogue supervises the local Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Carvel, and Edible Arrangements.

Etz Chaim Synagogue

Etz Chaim Synagogue is an Orthodox synagogue with approximately 185 member families and is led by Rabbi Nosson Kaiser. Etz Chaim is an OU member synagogue, as well as a Young Israel affiliate. Rabbi Kaiser presents numerous classes, and, twice a year, Kollel programs take place in the shul. There is a contemporary Judaica gift shop run by the shul’s Sisterhood. Also on the premises of the shul is the yeshiva day school, Torah Academy of Jacksonville, which currently offers grades from nursery through 6th grade.

Etz Chaim’s congregation represents all ages, from young families to senior citizens. The shul has a Youth Director, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch who provides programs such as Mishna Monday for Boys ages 7-13; Studio 39 for girls in 4th-7th grades; Binah, etc. for girls approaching Bas Mitzvah age; ToTal program which is a Sunday morning Hebrew activities program; Father & Son Nights on Motzei Shabbos from November through April; Shabbos morning youth minyans and Shabbos afternoon youth groups. There is also Camp Sheves Achim in the summer. In addition to these, Rabbi Fisch and his wife are the advisors to the NCSY Jacksonville Chapter, which won several awards including Chapter of the year 2006-2007 for their programs.

Shabbos home hospitality is available with advance notice. There are two hotels located within the eiruv and within walking distance to the shul. Community Shabbos meals in the shul, for a fee, are offered about once a month. For more information, call the Etz Chaim Synagogue office (904) 262-3565 ext. 7.

If you’re a member of the Orthodox Jewish community and are looking for a new home where the cost of living is lower and the quality of life is high, where the climate is enjoyable year-round and people practice true Southern hospitality, you may want to consider Jacksonville, Florida. There’s no doubt, Jacksonville has something for everyone. Whether you prefer the excitement of a bustling downtown or the serenity of rural areas, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Northeast Florida. That’s why Jacksonville has been the best kept secret in the Southeast.

Chabad Lubavitch of Northeast Florida

Chabad Lubavitch of Northeast Florida, led by Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov, is an important institution in Jacksonville’s blossoming Jewish community. In addition to being a vibrant full-service congregation of approximately 50 member families, it serves as the cornerstone and headquarters for Chabad’s Jewish outreach and enrichment activities throughout the greater Jacksonville area. As such, The Shul fills a wide spectrum of needs for Jews of all ages and backgrounds.

The traditional Shtiebel setting, warm and welcoming atmosphere and joyous ambiance, all contribute to the oasis for which the Shul has become recognized. The frequent Kiddushim, insightful discussions and inspirational melodies are additional qualities that add to The Shul’s distinctive mystique and spirit.

The shul has recently undergone a complete renovation, providing a clean, spacious environment with a touch of elegance. In addition to daily and Shabbos minyans, Chabad offers a rich assortment of ongoing programs and activities. For more information, contact The Shul of Jacksonville at 904-262-6641.

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